I know in previous posts I have discussed some of the origins of genetically modified organisms, the technology used to create them, and some of the benefits from using them along with the concerns and speculations people have about their use. But I have not, necessarily, provided a basic outline of the history behind the upbringing of genetic modification.
So, for this post, I decided to do just that and present to you a brief history of genetic alteration!
Even though the advancements in scientific technology and genetically modified organisms is relatively recent, humans have, actually, been altering the genes of organisms for over 30,000 years!
Right now you’re probably thinking: “What?! How?!” Well, even though we didn’t have the technology, equipment, or even the knowledge to knowingly transplant a strand of DNA from one organism directly into another, our ancestors were able to genetically alter organisms through a process known as “selective breeding” or “artificial selection.” These two terms were originally coined by Charles Darwin to describe the “process of choosing the organisms with the most desired traits and mating them with the intention of combining and propagating these traits through their offspring” (Rangel). This may not be what one thinks of GMO technology to be currently, it is, however, the earliest known example of humans influencing genetics. Because our ancestors used this process over and over again, its repeated use resulted in drastic genetic changes to each generation of a certain species.
Many years later, in 1973 to be exact, the first major breakthrough in biotechnology erupted when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen collaborated and successfully engineered the very first genetically engineered organism. These two men were the first to develop a method to extract a gene from one organism, and successfully plant into another. By utilizing this method, they were able to transfer a gene that “encodes antibiotic resistance from one strain of bacteria into another, bestowing antibiotic resistance upon the recipient” (Rangel). And within that same year, two other scientists—Rudolf Jaenisch and Beatrice Mintz—used a similar method in animals, where they introduced external DNA into mouse embryos.
However, as big of an advancement in the scientific community as this was, almost immediately after the creation of this technology, the population began to worry about the ramifications from conducting such procedures on the human health along with the Earth’s ecosystems.
Since then, the technology used to create these organisms has become more and more advanced, and the use of GMOs has become more abundant than ever. In addition, the speculations and concerns regarding genetic modification have also become more apparent in the news today. Currently, scientists are using GMOs to help make crops immune to certain diseases that can be spread by insects and resistant to succumbing to flooding. Looking back, it is truly remarkable how mankind was able to develop this technology and methods and use them to create better, and more sustainable crops.